Category Archives: Safety

Europe’s Drinking Water

Is it safe or not? Depends on the country.

Europe-mapIf you’re concerned about drinking tap water when traveling in Europe, I’ve added a page to this blog about which countries have reliably safe drinking water and which don’t. Where the water is possibly unsafe, you might want to heed the usual cautions about fresh but unpeeled fruits and vegetables, water for brushing your teeth and even showering.  And I’ve cited Condé-Nast Traveler as the source of this list.

Terrorism Tragedies Scaring Tourists from Europe

Destinations large and small impacted.

globeAs the years tick past, I wonder when I will no longer be able to put a pack on my back and tow a small rolling suitcase — and head somewhere distant. Therefore, the urge to travel — to see places I’ve never visited —  has increased, not waned.  I want to go afar while I still can.  Asia, Africa and Latin America call, but most of all, so does Europe. I’ve seen quite a bit, but there’s so much more.

Bombings and mass shootings in major cities make headlines all over the world, but incidents where few or none are killed and a few are wounded get less attention. And travels embarked on, experienced and completed without incident make no news at all. But more and more news stories do surface where something happened to tourists somewhere. A recent knife attack on a mother and her three daughters in the resort of Grande-Colombe in the French Alps was reportedly because the attacker thought the victims were too scantily dressed.

In my heart, I know that the chances of being in exactly the place where violence occurs are extremely slim (about like chances of winning the Powerball), but  many tourists still don’t want to take a chance. A piece in the New York Times, Terrorism Scares Away the Tourists Europe Was Counting On, makes me sad for a variety of reasons, but also offers opportunities for travel values. I’m checking out deals. In addition to the terrible tragedy for locals, every awful incident causes nervous visitors to cancel. I will want to get on a plane and go. How about you?

Allegiant: Low Fare + No Air

Allegiant passengers forced onto aircraft wing upon landing in Boise.

AllegiantAirLogoWho ever expects that an airline ticket will include unbreathable cabin “air”? Some passengers on Allegiant Air that landed in Boise the other day, who ended up standing on the aircraft wing, found out that it could happen. According to a report in the Idaho Statesman, “Passengers were forced to escape onto the wing of an Allegiant Air plane after fumes leaked into the cabin on landing. The worrying incident happened after Flight 330 had landed at Boise Airport in Idaho, U.S. from Los Angeles.”

Passengers waiting on the wing of a just-landed Allegiant Air plane after foul cabin air forced them to except. It happened in Boise. Good that it wasn't winter or windy. The carrier reportedly compensated them with $50 for the inconvenience.
Passengers waiting on the wing of a just-landed Allegiant Air plane after foul cabin air forced them to except. It happened in Boise. Good that it wasn’t winter or windy. The carrier reportedly compensated them with $50 for the inconvenience.

Passengers reported smoke and a smell of fuel in the cabin the plane taxied to the gate in Boise. Some of the 163 passengers escaped onto the wing after fumes leaked into the cabin upon landing. Even after the emergency evacuation, some were dismayed at the way the airline dealt with the situation. “Passengers Criticize Allegiant Air’s Handling of the Evacuation.”

This follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport. Four passengers and one flight attendant reportedly sustained injuries that time.

According to a press released issued by BerlinRosen Public Affairs on behalf of a client that I can’t seem to identify, “Allegiant pilots have been raising concerns about the airline’s bare-minimum approach that’s infused all aspect of its operation. Earlier this year, Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC) released a report that shows the airline experiences a high rate of air returns and diversions due to mechanical issues. Between January and March of 2015 alone, there were 38 new instances of fixable mechanical issues such as engines failing, pressurization problems, smoke in the cockpit, radar being inoperable and anti-ice devices on windshields failing.” T

his follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida, just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport in Clearwater. Four passengers and one flight attendant sustained injuries.  This is a result of what I think of as the Walmartization of America, turning us into a nation of bottom-feeders.  Cut costs to the bone, no matter what the possible consequences.  It is fortunate that there were only survivable injuries in the Clearwater incident and none reported in Boise, where BTW, Allegiant reportedly gave each affected passenger a $50 certificate. I wonder how many people will actually use it. I wouldn’t.

Rebranding Part of Mexico’s West Coast

‘Sun Triangle’ new promotional umbrella for 3 resort destinations

Sun Triangle-logoThe Sun Triangle (Triángulo del Sol in Spanish), a new tourism initiative in Mexico, is an effort to position and promote the top tourist destinations in the State of Guerrero: troubled Acapulco, the silver center of Taxco and the twin communities of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Delicately put, “the Sun Triangle initiative aims to breathe new life into some of Mexico’s most authentic and celebrated tourist destinations.”

Unstated, of course, is the negative press from drug cartel violence on this coast, and even foreign tourists have recently been assaulted in Acapulco, Mexico’s first internationally famous beach resort. A Belgian tourist was gunned down during an attempt to steal his Mercedes-Benz. The murder took place in Diamante, one of the city’s most upscale sections. Just three weeks earlier, six Spanish tourists were raped in the Punta Diamante section.Still, the legions of visitors who have wonderful vacations without being murdered or raped do not make headlines, but in tourism, image counts for a lot — and Acapulco’s has been tarnished and has the greatest need.  It doesn’t help either that the Tourism Minister of the State of Jalisco, up the coast, was just assassinated.

Acapulco is reinvigorating itself by investing $200 million dollars in the renovation and revitalization of its Traditional Zone, the destination’s most celebrated and iconic neighborhood, which is home to the legendary La Quebrada cliff divers, the Hotel Flamingos  and the retro-chic Hotel Boca Chica. Renowned Mexican entrepreneur and “the world’s richest man,” Carlos Slim, was appointed Chairman of the new Advisory Council, whose main objective is to protect, restore and revitalize this important area of Acapulco.  The improvements include a new state-of-the-art destination-wide transportation system known as ACABus, which will provide service between the Traditional Zone and the Diamante Zone with an expected launch in 2014.

Acapulco’s new properties and multi-million dollar hotel renovations include the 101-room Holiday Inn La Isla property in the Diamond Zone and the re-opening of the stunning Hotel Encanto last month with a new image and overall concept committed to giving guests a unique experience. Also, the iconic properties ( The Fairmont Acapulco Princess and The Fairmont Pierre Marques_ officially opened Turtle Dunes Country Club, a premium golf course at the center of the Princess complex.

Further up the Pacific coast, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo offer guests a private getaway and access to world-class amenities, with accommodation options ranging from charming small hotels and luxurious boutique properties to five-star all-inclusive resorts. Located just ten minutes apart from each other, Ixtapa is a modern beach town while Zihuatanejo is a historic fishing port. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo recently launched the fourth phase of its rehabilitation projectwhich aims to renovate iconic locations throughout the destination. When completed, some 80 percent of locations included in the plan will have been renovated. Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo is accessible via non-stop flights from major U.S and Canadian cities.

The colonial city of Taxco, known as Mexico’s silver capital and a three-hour drive from Acapulco, plans to show off its beauty by installing  special lighting and illumination on temples, plazas, streets and alleyways for a spectacular view of Taxco by night. This is the final stage in a large-scale illumination project entitled “Taxco, City of Lights.”

I’ve been to a number of places in Mexico (without incident, I must add) but not to the Sun Triangle. These new initiatives make this portion of the West Coast very appealing.

Mexico to Improve Tourist Facilities

MeixcoFlagAccording Mexicogram, a site that monitors tourism in Mexico, “President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that 100 billion pesos (about US$7 to 8 billion) will be invested in infrastructure programs aimed at benefiting the tourism industry. New port facilities, better highways and revived passenger railways are among the program planned. Peña Nieto spoke at the National Tourism Forum in Cancun, noting that tourism creates jobs and regional development. Cancun itself is proof of this. Prior to the 1970s, Cancun was an empty sand bar on the edge of a remote and undeveloped federal territory. It now is the biggest resort destination in the entire Caribbean.”

Mexico needs to do something to counteract the negative impressions that tourists have from news reports of the ongoing drug war violence, attacks on tourists in Acapulco (including the recent rape of six Spanish women, which helped catapult it to the top of the list of Mexico’s most violent cities) and the ongoing abandonment of some Mexican ports by certain cruise lines. The bright spot so far seem to be the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán, which seem isolated from the troubles.

Alaska Heli-Ski Operation Supplies Air Bags

Avalanche air bags now standard issue for Alaska heli-ski clients

The winter of 2012-13 is so far shaping up to be epic in the North American West and in the Alps with big snowstorms. Powder snow means massive pleasure for skiers and snowboarders, especially in the unpatrolled, uncountrolled backcountry but even inbounds. On Monday, a 20-year-old skier and two companions were caught by an in-bounds slide at Crystal Mountain, Washington. Two managed to extricate themselves, and fortunately Ski Patrol reached Emily Anderson and dug her out in 10 or 15 minutes. She had the presence of mind to clear airspace in front of her face as she was covered, and when Patrol got to her, she was conscious, breathing and happy to be alive — and ready to ski again.

Chugach Powder Guides, an Alaskan heli-ski operator, is one of the first in the United States to provide avalanche air bags to guests free of charge with Mammut’s Rocker R.A.S. (Removable Airbag System) 18 now part of the company’s standard issue safety gear provided to each heli-skier, including Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver. Mammut first integrated the Removable Airbag System, developed by the Swiss company Snowpulse SA, into its snow backpacks in 2011.

While other operators dogive clients an opportunity to rent an air bag system, Chugach Powder Guides supplies it to guests at no extra cost. Like Kleenex or Scoth Tape, the trade name AvaLung is often used to describe all such airbags.

Chugach whirlybird in the air over Alaska powderfields.

Founded in 1997, Chugach Powder Guides is headquartered in Girdwood at the Alyeska Resort and also has operations in Seward and the Tordrillo Mountains. Chugach Powder Guides offers a variety of heli-skiing and snowcat skiing adventures ranging from one day to one week. the company is a member of Heli-Ski U.S. Association.

Mideast & North African Turmoil Strangles Egypt Tourism

Terrorism & tourism, and vacationers & violence don’t mix

I was able to remove Egypt from my bucket list of travel destinations when I was there for 10 days in early 2009 for a Society of American Travel Writers Freelance Council meeting. This was, of course, before the Arab Spring. Egypt is in effect the westernmost country of North Africa and the easternmost in the Middle East.

Our group visited Cairo, including the vibrant Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in the Islamic district, a district with many old Christian churches, the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square,  the pyramids and Sphinx in nearby Giza and the older pyramids at Saqqara. We even had an audience with the controversial and since deposed Dr. Zahi Hawass, formerly Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, a cabinet post under the former regime.

We cruised the Nile, visiting breath-taking temples and tombs — Abu Simbal in one stop and then on a riverboat traveling downtream from Aswan to Luxor. With a smaller group, I went to Alexandria and marveled at the modern library with the ancient name, walked along the crumbling Conrniche, ate lunch in the Cecil Hotel of Alexandria Qaurtet fame), explored  an old citadel overlooking the Mediterranean and visited the World War II battlefield, memorial and museum at El Alamein. And I am so-o-o-o glad went when I did. Continue reading Mideast & North African Turmoil Strangles Egypt Tourism

Cruise Ship Runs Aground & Casualties Abound

Costa Concordia grounding results in at least 6 fatalities

The “Titanic” sank in the North Atlantic in winter a century ago, but the Italian “Costa Concordia” with all modern technology available foundered under far gentler conditions. She ran aground Friday evening around dinner time near the island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast. She suffered major hull damage. The luxurious cruise ship’s grounding reportedly resulted in at least six deaths and 15 injuries

She reportedly hit a sand bank, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. I’m not a maritime engineer, but I don’t see how a sand bank could cause major damage to a ship’s hull. Rocks? Yes. Sand bank? I douvt it. Also, from the picture below, even if taken with a very long lens, it appears that someone wasn’t minding the store — because right there is a lighthouse. How could this be?

"Costa Concordia" listing after hitting a sandback off Italy's west coast.

The ship, with about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew, according to the cruise line’s blog, began listing, which hampered evacuation procedures. Some passengers fell into the frigid waters during rescue, the news agency reported. ANSA also reported that up to 300 people were still on board early Saturday waiting for assistance .

Stay tuned.

Saturday morning update: According to an MSNBC report, “Survivors who escaped a luxury cruise ship that ran aground and tipped over described a delayed then panicked evacuation, as plates and glasses crashed around them and they crawled along upended hallways trying to reach safety.  By morning Saturday, the ship was lying virtually flat off Gigio’s coast, its starboard side submerged in the water. Some 4,200 people were on board at the time, including 129 Americans, according to NBC News. Three bodies were found, officials said, and there were unconfirmed news reports of a total of six or eight deaths. New reports said 69 people were still missing early Saturday.”

 

TSA Revising Procedures When Children Fly

TSA to exempt children to pat-downs. Old folks are next

TSA agent, when uniform shirts were white and not yet blue, screening a potential terrorist (not!).

Ten years and a couple of days after the 9/11 tragedy and nearly nine years and 10 months after the Transportation Security Agency was established, and after increasingly intrusive procedures, agents are finally going to have to keep their hands of people’s kids. After tests were conducted at Boston Logan International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Miami International, Orlando International, Houston Intercontinental and Denver International, the TSA will be instituting new procedures that will result in fewer pat-downs of children 12 and under.

Parents who have cautioned their children about “inappropriate touching” had to stand by as US government security screeners did just that and perhaps explain the contradiction of when it’s OK and when it isen’t. The TSA finally relented and is introducing new procedures to reduce, thought not likely to  eliminate, pat-downs of children at airport checkpoints. Also, kids age 12 and younger will not have to remove their shoes when passing through a metal detector or full-body image scanner. If there’s a suspicious shape, the children will reportedly be allowed to pass through the devices several times before they are either cleared or physically searched.

CNN reported, “The furor over screening of children erupted in spring after a video posted on YouTube showed a 6-year-old girl being searched at New Orleans airport on April 5. The girl protests the search at first, although she complies quietly while it is under way.”

Maybe old and/or ill people like that poor 95-year-old, wheelchair-bound cancer patient who had to remove her adult diaper because it was “too dense” for the screening devices. That occurred last June (click here to read the CNN report). At that time, the TSA  defended its screener after the story went viral, but the outrage over the pat-down of a 6-year-old seem to have caused the agency to change its tune. What a difference 89 years make!

Unforeseen Crises Make the Case for Travel Insurance

A lot can derail a trip, including political upheaval and natural catastrophe. Travel insurance can get you back home

Too often when I turn on the news or read the newspaper, I am transfixed by another political or natural crisis — often in places I’ve been: An earthquake in Haiti, which I visited more than 25 years ago. A revolution in Egypt, exactly two years after I was there. An earthquake in New Zealand, where I will be in November. An earthquake in Japan, which I’ve never visited, but which launched a tsunami that raced across the Pacific, including a dramatic blast by Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii en route to the West Coast. What if I were wherever epicenter of the headlines is, I wonder — unhurt but needing to get out and get home?

When world headlines are made by revolutions or natural disasters, tourists can be caught. Their predicament is more along the lines of inconvenience that pales in comparison with refugees fleeing political violence or natural disaster, but it’s very real and very scary at the time. Getting out of a very troubled area is often a logistical nightmare — and can be expensive as well. That’s when travel insurance can kicks in–  if it is the right kind. John W. Cook, president of QuoteWright.com, which provides online comparisons of travel insurance, sorts it out like this:

 1.  Most basic trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage provides coverage for terrorism; however, it is mostly limited to an actual terrorist event which happens in a city on the traveler’s itinerary within 30 days of the traveler’s scheduled arrival. Most policies will cover both domestic and foreign events.
2.  Some policies limit coverage to an actual terrorist event which happens in a city on the traveler’s itinerary within 7 days of the traveler’s departure date.
3.  Some policies may require that coverage be purchased within two weeks of the first trip payment in order for the coverage to be activated.
4.  Some policies may exclude coverage if a terrorist event has occurred within the city or country within the prior 6 months or if a Travel Warning has been issued for travel to that country or region.
5.  “Terrorist Event” is defined differently by travel insurance policies however; civil disorder, riots, and war are not covered.

Cook explains, “Trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage is a “named peril” coverage that relies on the covered reason, policy definitions, and exclusions to determine coverage.  Contrary to some published reports an elevation of the travel alert to a travel warning will not trigger coverage.  As a whole, travel insurance policies require an actual terrorist event to occur in order for coverage to apply so even if the Department of State elevates the alert to a warning coverage will not apply without an actual event occurring and then only if it complies with the policy provisions.   It may, however, affect future coverage since some policies exclude travel to an area where a Travel Warning has been issued.

 “Some policies offer a ‘cancel for any reason’ option that can be added to the policy at the time of purchase which provides a safety net for cancellations not covered by the basic coverage.  Eligibility for this coverage is usually dependent on buying coverage within 2 to 3 weeks from your first trip payment date.  This option allows you to cancel for any reason other than one already covered by the basic coverage, however, there are pre-conditions.  Usually you have to buy the plan and option within 2 to 3 weeks following your first payment date, you must insure your trip to its full pre-paid value, and if you cancel for a reason that is not other wised covered than you must do so at least 2 or more days prior to departure.”

Some insurance companies respond heroically to a crisis. On Call International, for instance, sent a plane to Egypt on January 31 to evacuate 150 travelers who had bought their insurance.  Their several insurance plans include a specific Political Evacuation and Natural Disaster Evacuation add-on to their basic travel and medical coverage. It costs $85 for a single trip ($95 for seniors 77-plus) and covers up to $100,000 for evacuation to a safe area and then home, and I’m betting the 150 travelers on that plane that it was worth every penny. 

Earthquake Evacuation

Natural disasters are another matter. In a little more than a year, the world has witnessed devastating earthquakes in Haiti, Regarding the earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami that raced across the Pacific, he cautions, “The earthquake and resulting tsunami are probably going to be classified by travel insurance companies as a ‘natural disaster.’ This classification can have a big effect on coverage for trip cancellation and interruption coverages. Under those coverages some, but not all, companies include ‘natural disasters’ which causes your airline to cease operations to be a covered event. Most of the plans limit coverage for ‘natural disasters’ that make your destination uninhabitable.”  Coverage for travel delay is also a “named peril,” with benefits in the majority of plans including “natural disaster” as a covered event. Mondial Assistance, another travel insurance provider, cautions that “as with all travel insurance coverages, the event that causes your loss has to be reasonably unforeseeable at the time you purchased your policy.”

In the past, I have been cavalier about travel insurance, but now, it’s as much a part of my travel documents as my passport and my AAA card.